It's the coolest hangout space for teens-but parents might be surprised at what their kids do there. Here's how to help keep them safe online
Common sense. Regular MySpace users, however, can get caught up in sharing their daily dramas and escapades-so engrossed that they sometimes forget the whole world may be watching. There have been many news reports of police nabbing teens who bragged about or posted pictures of their illegal exploits online. Teens in Novato, Calif., for example, got arrested when they posted a video of themselves firebombing an abandoned airplane hangar last spring. More commonplace, however, are photos and postings detailing underage drinking or pot smoking that could conceivably hurt teens' chances when they apply to college or look for a job down the road.
At this time, however, that possibility seems relatively remote. A survey by two counselors at Purdue University's Center for Career Opportunities during the past academic year found that about a third of employers screen job candidates using search engines like Google, while 11.5 percent said that they look at social-networking sites. What's more, colleges don't routinely look at applicants' MySpace or similar profiles. It's a question of time and fairness, says David Hawkins, director of public policy for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. With thousands of applications to review, admissions officers simply don't have time to run names through MySpace. At the same time, "if you look at one person's MySpace profile for something that's not submitted on the application," says Hawkins, "you'd have to look at them all." However, that doesn't mean that employers and admissions officers will turn a blind eye if a problematic profile is brought to their attention. "If a high school counselor said this kid had a MySpace profile that said very negative things about a teacher," Hawkins says, "the admissions officer might consider it."
Many middle schools and high schools currently block social-networking sites on school computers. The Fenn School, a private school in Concord, Mass., for fourth-to-ninth-grade boys, is one of them. School administrators decided that any technology used in the school should serve educational purposes, and MySpace and similar sites don't meet that standard, says Rob Gustavson, the assistant headmaster. At the same time, school administrators believe they have a responsibility to help students develop common sense about their use of technology. One of the segments in the "student life"course, in fact, covers using technology wisely. "We want them to be able to make these judgments when they get outside,"says Gustavson. The Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006, which passed the House of Representatives in July, would make blocking of these sites at public schools and libraries mandatory. Although the law's intention is to protect minors from sexual solicitations or suggestive material, many experts believe it is written too broadly and will obstruct many useful sites. And they also argue that banning the sites from the very locations where there are adults present to monitor kids' online activities is a mistake. "If we lock these sites out of the schools, adults are turning their backs on kids and making them deal with these issues on their own," says Henry Jenkins, codirector of the comparative media studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.